“Driven by a Lust for Headlines”
Apologetics Press has written extensively through the years about the unsubstantiated claims scientists frequently make about dinosaurs and their alleged testimony for the General Theory of Evolution (see Lyons and Butt, 2008). Evolutionary scientists, eager to introduce the world to the latest alleged multi-million-year-old dinosaur, frequently make assertions without adequate evidence. Nevertheless, month after month, year after year, the claims are made: “this dinosaur evolved 200 million years ago,” “that dinosaur evolved into a bird,” etc. Although many evolutionists find it difficult to see why creationists so often are skeptical about the “latest and greatest” dinosaur claims, a recent Nature article confirmed what many creationists have speculated for years.
Rex Dalton, a longtime writer for Nature, began his article with these words: “One hundred and thirty-five years of questionable judgments, some driven by a lust for headlines, have left dinosaur nomenclature in disarray, according to two new studies” (2008, emp. added). The studies, conducted by paleontologist Michael Benton of the University of Bristol, England, revealed that “there are errors in almost half the names given to dinosaurs” (Dalton, emp. added). In fact, of the 1,401 names given to dinosaurs from 1824 to 2004,” precisely 48% were either duplicates or “embodied errors of some other sort,” including “a lack of sufficient fossil material” (Dalton). Just how insufficient? According to Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania, almost half (45.3%) of all dinosaur genera are based on a single specimen, and 74% are represented by five specimens or less (1990, 87:7608). No wonder so many errors have been made.
Dalton and the scientists he interviewed referred to the extent of the problems as “scary,” “bad,” and “a shock.” Why so many shocking mistakes regarding the naming and interpretation of dinosaur fossils? Why have scientists attempted to make so much out of so few fossil specimens? It is due in large part to pressures placed upon fossilologists by funding agencies and publishers. “As more public money came to be used for exploration projects...there was a growing risk that funding-agency and journal pressures might lead to unnecessary naming of genera or species” (Dalton). Dalton said this is exactly what happened—in the U.S. and abroad. During the last 30 years of the 19th century fossil hunter Othniel Marsh named 80 dinosaurs. Unsurprisingly, this man, who worked so feverishly in hopes of becoming “America’s king of the dinosaurs” (Dalton), had a very poor success rate. Of the 80 dinosaurs he named, only 23 are still valid.
Consider another dinosaur fossil hunter: Dong Zhiming of China. Thirty-six percent of the dinosaurs he named from 1973-2004 are now considered invalid. As might be expected, his early work “was done when there was pressure on Chinese scientists to discover new species” (Dalton).
Sadly, countless erroneous and misleading claims about dinosaurs have come to pass because of “a lust for headlines.” Many interpretations of dinosaur fossils once thought to be iron-clad have been proven to be flawed. Such also could be said about the alleged fossil evidence for human evolution (see Harrub and Thompson, 2003). Today’s “great proof for evolution,” is often tomorrow’s back-page retraction (e.g., archaeoraptor; see Harrub and Thompson, 2001; see also Harrub and Thompson, 2003, pp. 85-92).
Dalton, Rex (2008), “In Search of Thingummyjigosaurus,” Naturenews, September 17, [On-line], URL: http://www.nature.com/news/2008/170908/full/news.2008.1111.html.
Dodson, Peter (1990), “Counting Dinosaurs: How Many Kinds Were There?,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 87:7608-7612, October.
Harrub, Brad and Bert Thompson (2001), “Archaeopteryx, Archaeoraptor, and the ‘Dinosaurs-to Birds’ Theory [Parts I & II],” Reason & Revelation, 21[4-5]:25-31,33-39, April-May, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/473.
Harrub, Brad and Bert Thompson (2003), The Truth About Human Origins (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Lyons, Eric and Kyle Butt (2008), Dinosaur Delusion: Dismantling Evolution’s Most Cherished Icon (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).